NANFAN, William (by 1485-1536/37), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. by 1485, prob. illegit. s. of Sir Richard Nanfan of Trethewel, Cornw. and Birtsmorton, Worcs. m. Agnes.1

Offices Held

Collector of bill money, Calais by 1506-9; clerk of the council, Calais 20 May 1520-3, of the peace, Cornw. 1531-6.2


Sir Richard Nanfan died in 1507 leaving no male heir. He provided in his will for one bastard son and William Nanfan was probably another, as Sir Richard’s son-in-law John Flamank called him ‘brother’. Flamank and William Nanfan had been especially trusted by Sir Richard during his deputy-ship at Calais, partly as he said ‘because you be next unto me’, and partly because most of the officials in the pale had been appointed by his precursor as deputy and their loyalty was suspect. William Nanfan’s childhood was spent in Cornwall where about 1490 he was given the rent from a house in Padstow, but he was no longer living in the county, perhaps because he had joined Sir Richard in Calais, on 3 Dec. 1491 when the deed for the rent was entrusted to another Cornishman to keep to his use. He became friendly with Wolsey when the future cardinal was Sir Richard’s chaplain, and they remained on good terms after Wolsey’s rise to power. In 1519 Nanfan wrote to Wolsey about the losses which the King suffered through corruption in the duchy of Cornwall and promised to enlarge on the matter at their meeting: evidently he put his ideas on paper for in 1531 Cromwell was instructed to look out ‘Nanfan’s book touching the duchy of Cornwall’. It was on Wolsey’s recommendation that he was appointed clerk of the council at Calais, but as he exercised the office through a deputy the council approached Wolsey to replace him by a man of their choosing. In August 1523, therefore, the clerkship was regranted to Nanfan in survivorship with Adrian Dyer to whom not long after he sold his interest. Nanfan’s sale was not to deter him later from pressing a claim upon the clerkship against Dyer’s successor, Thomas Derby. The patent falsity of this suggests that he was of a dishonest inclination, an impression further borne out by a complaint made to Wolsey by Sir Richard Sacheverell, alleging that after buying a bill of credit ‘for little or nothing’ he had begun an action for debt against Sacheverell.3

As a client of Wolsey, Nanfan may have sat in the Commons before 1529, but it is to be doubted whether the doomed minister could have done anything towards finding him a seat in the Parliament of that year. Several officials in the duchy of Cornwall, including the receiver-general Sir John Arundell, are known to have been in agreement with Nanfan’s proposals to reform the duchy, and it is likely that influence from that direction explains his return for Dorchester as the duchy owned the manor of Fordington on the outskirts of the town. Arundell’s kinsman Sir Giles Strangways I, himself elected for the shire, may also have had a hand in the matter, either in his own right or through his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Trenchard of nearby Wolveton, who was perhaps already high steward of the town. In view of the King’s request that the Members of this Parliament should be re-elected in 1536, Nanfan probably sat again in the Parliament which met that June. In 1531 he had obtained the clerkship of the peace for Cornwall and this appointment he kept until a few months before his death. He made his will on 18 Oct. 1536, asking to be buried in St. Paul’s churchyard, ‘where the cross standeth’, with as little cost as may be, ‘for so it is most expedient to be done’. He had already arranged for his lands to go to his wife while she lived, the relevant deeds being kept by her and his friend Thomas Treffry, and he made her executrix of the will, which was proved on 9 Jan. 1537.4

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first office. LP Rich. III and Henry VII (Rolls Ser. xxiv), i. 231-2; J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 281; iii. 308; PCC 1 Dyngeley.
  • 2. P.T.J. Morgan, ‘The govt. of Calais 1485-1558’ (Oxf. Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1966), 304, 307; LP Hen. VIII, i, iii, x.
  • 3. CIPM Hen. VII, iii. 365; Maclean, i. 281; iii. 308; LP Rich. III and Hen. VII, i. 231-2; LP Hen. VIII, i-v; C1/550/25, 569/3, 628/30, 31.
  • 4. Information from G. Haslam; PCC 1 Dyngeley.